Going Green: Cities and Energy Management

By: R.W. Robertson, Ph.D.


Cities provide a wide range of services to their citizens and customers. To properly understand the complexity of providing these services and to ensure that they are delivered in an effective and efficient manner some cities have adopted a formal business plan process. Fundamentally, this business plan process is an attempt to document and critically assess the services being provided by the city; review alternatives to the provision of this service; and establish a framework or plan for continuous improvement. As simple and easy as this system sounds, it is very difficult to apply, as many cities remain stuck in the trap of simply responding to the pressure of the day as opposed to strategically creating a path to their own chosen destiny.

The Strategic, Sustainable Approach

One particular area of growing interest to local governments in Canada is related to the significantly increased cost of energy. Specifically, the high price of energy shows up as increased costs in fuel for vehicles (police cars to public transit); heating and cooling costs for buildings; and, in street signals and municipal lighting.

The options to address these types of changes in energy costs and demand – like the options to address most change- require vision, leadership, strategic direction and consistent action plans to implement solutions. Faced with the immediacy of the increase in energy costs many municipalities opt to simply address that issue as opposed to a more strategic, detailed review of the root cause. What actually drives increased costs—what are the actual costs year to year and how can they be managed are all questions which many jurisdictions simply cannot answer. On the other hand, other cities undertake a more holistic view of energy management. In part, this type of review could be seen as similar to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto of the environmental movement and it is an important element in any strategic approach to “going green.”

Going Green: Application

On completion of a strategic review of energy use and alternatives available it is important to craft an action plan to achieve improvement results. Examples of specific solutions vary community-by-community based on time, context, and the specific nature of the issue being addressed. Currently, a number of cities have partnered with utilities to identify and promote a range of solutions. The Federation of Canadian Municipality’s website (www.fcm.ca) has a very good list of individual initiatives. In particular the FCM supports sustainable communities and  uses a green municipal fund in part to achieve this goal.

In British Columbia, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) also supports energy management initiatives (www.civicnet,bc.ca). Indeed UBCM and BC Hydro worked closely to promote the wise use of energy throughout the Province. In BC, the use of hydro electricity is predominant and, as a result, electricity costs remain relatively low and affordable (see Figure 1)

Figure 1energy

Electricity Rates (2006)

Source: http://www.bchydro.com/info Accessed November 1, 2006

In many other jurisdictions electricity is produced by fossil fuel (coal, natural gas and oil) which makes it both more costly and less environmentally friendly. Indeed the cost of fossil fuel is continuing to rise quickly. In North America, electricity costs are expected to continue to increase (see Energy Information Agency http://www.eia.doc.gov/fuel electric) at a rate higher than inflation. As a result, all organizations- including cities- should pay particular attention to energy management.